On February 15, 1966, Colombian revolutionary and former priest Camilo Torres was killed during a skirmish with an army patrol. The death electrified Colombians, and set them trying to assess the priest-turned-guerrilla, whose career ended so suddenly in a muddy jungle ravine. Many of the pieces written after that event touched on the ironic fact that troops who killed Torres were commanded by Colonel Alvaro Valencia Tovar, Camilo’s friend of many years. Since the early 1950s the two had collaborated on projects of social work, Camilo in his capacity as an activist priest, and Valencia as a socially aware army officer. Their final encounter became inevitable when, in mid-1965, Valencia was named commander of the Fifth Brigade, and later that year Camilo Torres joined the Castroite Ejército de Liberación Nacional fighting in territory policed by Valencia’s troops.

Published ten years after Torres’ death, El final de Camilo is General Valencia Tovar’s reply to five major criticisms of his conduct as commander of the Fifth Brigade. In six chapters which form the body of the work Valencia refutes each of the accusations, and in doing so provides a unique perspective on Camilo Torres in life and in death. He includes a useful appendix concerning Camilo, most of which consists of editorial writing from the Colombian press.

The weakness of this work lies in its conception. It is not the history of a significant event told by a key participant; rather, it is a defense mounted against criticism of a diverse and scurrilous nature. This approach makes for uneven prose and undue repetition of the theme which Valencia states in his preface: “Antagonists without my wanting it to be so, each of us merits tacit respect for our honestly held ideals” (p. 20). Methodological drawbacks aside, El final de Camilo is a significant addition to the literature of social change in Latin America. It balances the view of Camilo Torres given in previous works, and it illuminates the philosophy and values shared by military defenders of the Colombian constitutional order.